Ways of Telling: Jacquetta Hawkes as Film-Maker

By Finn, Christine | Antiquity, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Ways of Telling: Jacquetta Hawkes as Film-Maker


Finn, Christine, Antiquity


Key-words: Jacquetta Hawkes, film, Britain, education

This short paper will discuss the role of the archaeologist and writer Jacquetta Hawkes as filmmaker. It is set within the context of her widely ranging work -- from poetry and journalism to guide books and academic papers -- which made varying contributions to the communication of archaeology from the 1930s to the 1980s.

Jacquetta Hawkes' life (1910-1996) spanned significant changes in the way archaeology evolved as a discipline and was received both academically and by the public. I do not propose to discuss the broader history of the discipline but instead single out one example, a black-and-white film titled The Beginning of History, made during the Second World War, for an audience of schools and general public. It was released in 1946 and helped Hawkes define her work for public archaeology in Britain. She went on to become Archaeology Advisor to the Festival of Britain, the seminal post-war exhibition held on London's South Bank in 1951.

`... it is remarkable that in the middle of a war two Government departments ... should undertake a work apparently so unpractical and so little urgent': Jacquetta Hawkes' comment on the making of The Beginning of History, taken from an article she wrote on the subject for an academic audience (Hawkes 1946b), from which all quotations in this article come. The film was made as part of her work for the Ministry of Education and it is helpful, perhaps, to set the project in some context of her personal life. Although married at that time to the eminent Christopher Hawkes, then shortly to become Professor of European Archaeology at Oxford, Hawkes had already begun to establish herself in her own right. In 1939, she had been elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, helped by her work on the publication of The archaeology of the Channel Islands. She had completed Tom Kendrick's work with volume 2, The Bailiwick of Jersey (Hawkes 1939). With Christopher she had written Prehistoric Britain, published in 1943, and was preparing Early Britain, in a popular picture-book format, published in 1945. However, the marriage was under strain. According to a close friend, Diana Collins, Jacquetta Hawkes was increasingly restless and

looking for ways to resolve her creative and scientific interests. Her father, Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins, a Cambridge don, had combined formidable intellect with fertile imagination, and Hawkes was determined to make her own mark as an educationalist. The burgeoning new area of film-making was one of the ways she could achieve this. An invitation to be Editor-in-Chief of the Film Unit at the Ministry of Education was enthusiastically accepted.

The Beginning of History was part of an experimental programme which was `modest in scale but revolutionary in its implications', as Hawkes pointed out. `In our militantly decentralised system of education, the Board, or Ministry, has never before produced text-books or any equivalent form of educational material'. The programme's central theme was human development. Other films tackled subjects including printing and exploration. Hawkes was determined to confound the sceptics who regarded prehistory as unfilmable, but recognised the limitations: `There is nothing which more nakedly reveals our ignorance than an attempt at the visual presentation of prehistory with its inevitable exposure of all those wide blank spaces which words can conceal or evade'. However, the film was an exercise in creativity. She describes the camerawork in her inimitable style: `The lens slides down the walls of Cheddar Gorge and penetrates its caves to find the home of Palaeolithic man, its twists along a Skara Brae alley-way ... it explores every corner of Little Woodbury farmstead'. A series of animated maps and captions provided more movement, as did demonstrations of techniques such as flint-knapping, hoeing and the making of Bronze tools.

The film took ten-and-a-half months to make, from first talks to preview.

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